This week brought freedom for three women who had been held captive in a Cleveland home for about a decade. The prosecutor in the case has revealed that he may seek aggravated murder charges against the alleged captor, Ariel Castro, because Castro is accused of repeatedly beating and starving one of the women in order to force several miscarriages. This particular detail has caused quite the stir, not because of the vile nature of the alleged abuse (there's a disturbingly long list of equally loathsome things said to have been done to the women), but because it casts a fetus in the role of a murder victim. And this, despite fetal homicide laws having been on the books for years in the U.S., always makes pro-choice advocates profoundly uncomfortable.
I think it's for the same reasons that expressing opposition to sex-selective abortion raises such anxiety here in Canada. (If you're wondering what I'm talking about, just ask Mark Warawa.) Both discussions force all parties to actually focus on the fetus and what's being done to it, rather than focusing on the mother. (Margaret Somerville was quick to point this out in the Canadian context last year.) This shift in turn leads to tacit admissions that on some level, few of us can honestly say we don't think of a fetus as at least some kind of human being, even if we don't favour criminalizing abortion.
Rather than dodging the hard cases - the forced miscarriages and sex-selective abortions -- by pretending no harm has been done to anything worth recognizing or protecting, we should welcome them as a chance to bring honesty and painful nuance to a debate that is too often characterized as far simpler than it really is.